WORDS BY JANET HARDING / IMAGES WARREN MILLAR
It’s been a while since I was in Manchester, gigging, but it’s so good to be back. It’s such a vibrant city, full of orange brick buildings belonging to the industrial art nouveau movement. Tonight’s venue is nestled amongst them, but with its bright white façade is of another era. It’s the famous 02 Ritz. Retaining its strong art deco identity, it’s a brilliant venue, one of my favourites, and I must confess tonight’s headliner is one of my favourite bands, Starsailor. Anyone who knows me knows this is a huge one for me, and I’m looking forward to feeling that famously springy floor at the Ritz in action, bouncing beneath 3000 enthused fans! That’s dedication for ya…
It’s another anniversary tour, and another the pandemic postponed due to the band members all falling prey to Covid, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the debut and critically acclaimed album ‘Love is here’ which was released in 2001. I bought it back then, it’s still one of my most listened to albums and I’ve been a fan of Starsailor since the beginning.
Support tonight is in the form of The Horn, a band I must confess I’m not familiar with, but I do love discovering new music, so I’m instantly eager to see this band, then the Rosellas, I’ve been lucky enough to see these guys a few times ,very happy to be seeing them again, great sound!
1st support – The Horn
Ok so I don’t know this band, so that means my interest is already piqued. I must say from the minute the guys arrive on stage they ooze cool, they certainly look the part. We start off with a good solid rocking vibe, an almost 50s rock n roll beat, very retro, then Hammond organ sounds drift in, bringing that 60s Doors type sound – up tempo, very joyous, dance inducing with a male vocal that’s very smooth and bright, with a hollow, lower tone when needed.
It’s a GREAT sound. I can detect psychedelic influences, but then the sound changes, the second song feels darker, dramatic, moody…they really capture the feels and set the scene. Our front man is very charismatic and totally watchable, flitting about the stage, it’s must see stuff. A wide vocal range, high notes are held for lengthy periods ending with angsty growls. Then the sound changes again, I’m getting real 90s feels, God, I love this diverse and changing sound, each song is so unique and individual. It’s now feeling very in the style of Suede’s early work.
A very tight performance and musically too, it’s announced that the band are brand new and this is only the 5th or 6th performance. You honestly would not know! Real indie glam/indie art feel stage presence. The leaping about around stage, wild dancing and butt wiggling is very reminiscent of Brett Anderson I just really do get massive Suede feels, and this is a massive compliment, but also very Marc Bolan..The entire band are bouncing around…it’s a great set, full of the most illuminating energy…then come more jangly, glistening guitar lines ,the spidery type, like The Cure!
The Horn, you brought it tonight: rich, textured, very clever sounds, and as many genres, with such an eclectic influence. Glamtastic! Brilliant! Rock meets psych meets indie glam. Thoroughly enjoyed this set. Smashed it!
1/ Power Show
2/ Too Many Moments
3/ Always Late
4/ Another Way
6/ Addicted to Love
7/ Do it now
2nd Support – Rosellas
Drew – vocal/guitar
Luis – keys/backing vocal.
Evan – guitar
Ollie – bass
Mark – drums
Next up are Rosellas, a Manchester band with one mighty sound. These are a band that you just know will deliver. I’m so made up to be seeing them again, another of my ‘favs’….I am aware of that there are many, but honestly, these guys rock! Regularly touring the UK, and with an already impressive following lately Rosellas are doing even bigger things, after recently signing to the This Feeling/Warner label.
Theirs is a very rich sound, definitive, strong and recognisable. A definite Britpop feel, indie rock, anthemic feeling, Manchester sound is clearly a massive influence given it’s the bands home town. We start in usual Rosellas fashion, all guns blazing, ‘coming straight at you’ effect. It’s crashing indie rock swagger….that anthemic sound I mentioned is here, and it’s not to be ignored! I’ve said it before: it’s the kind of sound that fills stadium tours. Jagged, juddering guitars, utterly soaring bass lines, solid, loud thumping beats. It’s the finest and the loudest. Perfect for this venue, these rich and full sounds drift out among us. Keys bring a fluidity and lightness of sound. It’s crisp, clean, concise, very well played and the guys look so at home up there on this iconic stage, they’re just made for this.
Very fresh vocals, light airy and free, but with that Mancunian accent, giving a real edge, it’s that famous northern indie thing that we all just love to hear. Every time I’ve seen Rosellas they bring something new to the table. Every performance has a different feel, always brilliant. This is no exception, this time it’s real rock n roll, indie swagger, attitude and an abundance of energy. Genuinely they’re throwing this sound toward us and we’re catching it readily, it’s alive in here, bouncing, with one immense, immersive sound.
Drew announced how it’s been their dream to play 02 Ritz Manchester, and you can really see this means a lot to them, and that radiates from them in this set, It’s banging, they’ve brought quite some following and the atmosphere in here is electric. I’ve no doubt Rosellas will indeed headline here in the future, and I just hope I’m here for that!
I’m blown away, again… each time they keep it coming, you can’t not love it. They are definitely firmly still on my favourites list, and they are ones to watch, Big things are coming, mark my words, you can feel it. Bloody love you guys, Rosellas !!!! Outta that ball park…AGAIN!
1/ (Intro) Common Ground
2/ Before The Storm,
3/ Come Alive,
4/ Switch Off,
6/ Born under a Cloud (Lola’s Theme outro)
Headline – Starsailor
So firstly there’s a line up change. Starsailors’ own James Stelfox is unable to join the band for this tour, so the rest of Starsailor will be joined on bass by Andy Dunlop of the legendary Travis.
In dimmed lights, to an echoey recording of ‘Good Souls’ with the vocal on a loop, our headliners take their places, to roof-raising applause and screams. With every band member grinning broadly, the set begins with ‘Tie up my hands.’ It’s spine tingling – those strumming sequences bringing us into it; acoustic based strings: haunting, woeful, precise, completely fascinating, as the song progresses it gets more intense. Obviously James’s vocal is so distinctive – melancholy, soulful, full of sorrow, but melodic and lilting, then rousing and moving. The entire venue is singing every word along with him, swaying in time – it’s magical.
After a coy grin from James upon finishing, then a genuine “thanks”, it’s straight into ‘Poor Misguided fool’…this is the lighted match, thrown onto the petrol of excitement…it’s ignited the fire of energy and we’re off… bouncing, jumping, arms in the air, mosh pit ripples; lyrics are screamed back toward the stage. It’s amazing. The sound is beyond brilliant, real nostalgia, it’s evocative, powerful and it’s going off in here now! There’s something therapeutic about singing loudly along with thousands of others to a band whose sound you’ve admired for decades standing feet away from you, playing iconic song after song from one of your favourite albums that sits alongside so many memories.- and that’s aside from how frickin’ awesome this sound is right now! Gentle piano in some, that emotive Hammond sound in others -.during ‘Alcoholic’ I’ve got goose bumps. The sound is cosmic, heavenly. Layered strings, alternating beats from steady to pounding, with shimmery cymbals, and the themes ranging from wistful, regretful and morose, but all somehow light and uplifting. Between songs James gives thanks and gets the nostalgia feels going even more, reminiscing about ‘back in the day’, chatting about old times, record shops in his local towns. and thanked those of us who at the time went out and bought CDs and cassettes of the ‘Love is here’ album.
It’s a sell out tonight, I’ve been to a few gigs at the Ritz Manchester, and whilst downstairs is always full, the balcony area is seemingly always sparse, Tonight it’s packed to the rafters, both up in the gods and downstairs, but this really is a gig like nothing I’ve experienced before. Starsailors’ sound genuinely is breathtaking. Part of the early acoustic movement, it’s fitting therefore that, assisting them on bass (and what a sterling job he s doing too), is Andy from Travis – another giant of that same movement. The sound tonight, of course, is indie, folk with maybe a country feel at times, but the songs are huge, legendary in their own right. Starting off slowly, softly and gently, then gradually becoming something spectacular as bit by bit more instruments join that mesmerising guitar sound, bringing each song to a crescendo of haunting brilliance, and more atmosphere than words can do justice to. Quite honestly each song and its performance tonight is a masterpiece and a thing of beauty. During the set James performs some solo acoustic, stripped back and laid bare, His vocal and guitar playing leave us in awe. He manages somehow to convey pure emotion with his voice and through the strings of his guitar. It’s quite incredible to witness. His is a voice that needs no aids or gimmicks.
As with all amazing live music events, it’s over all too soon, ending on the biggest high with ‘Four to the floor’. The crowd explodes again, this time we’ve got pogoing, ripples of bouncing bodies bobbing in the swirling musical sound waves. What an ending! What a song! What a performance! What a show!
Now comes thunderous applause, screaming, whooping, foot stamping, then as the band come back on stage it erupts all over again. With an encore of ‘Silence is easy’ it’s been another gig of a lifetime (certainly of mine!). This talented, very humble band really did full justice to this well loved album anniversary tonight. It’s been a moving, genuine, heartfelt, high vibrational performance. As live bands go, this is hard to beat. It’s pure joy to watch them.
If you’re looking for ‘tingle inducing’ music for the soul and a fully immersive and uplifting experience, then go see Starsailor. I love the album ‘Love is here’ just that little bit more now after witnessing this tonight. As a band they’ve cemented their place firmly at the top of my all time favourites. And as for those not familiar with this album, a re-mastered version was released in January this year, Take a listen; you can’t fail to be inspired by it.
Thank you, Starsailor, for one special album, and for one hell of a set tonight. Love most definitely is here!
1/ Tie up my hands
2/ Poor Misguided fool
5/ Way to fall
7/ She just wept
8/ Talk her down
9/ Love is here
10/ Good souls
11/ Coming down
12/ This time
13/ What a wonderful world (Louis Armstrong cover)
15/ Best of me
16/ Tell me it’s not over
17/ Four to the floor
18/ Silence is Easy
FOLLOW THE HORN
Warren is a live music and festival photographer based in Cheshire and covers gigs/festivals mostly in the North West of England. He has been photographing live music for over 10 years and has covered major artists and festivals